Today I had an interesting experience. I accompanied a scientist up onto the ice sheet to drill for ice core samples. I'll make the distinction between glaciers and ice sheets by saying 82% (at least) of Greenland is covered by a massively thick layer of ice. At its centre it's 3 kilometres (1.9 miles) thick. That's the ice sheet.

When the ice sheet gets close to the coast, it squeases out between the coastal mountains. What is squishing out between the mountains are glaciers. So a glacier, big as it is, pales in comparison to the immensity of the ice sheet.

We were on the ice sheet on the east coast of Greenland. Just a big sea of featureless ice white landscape, stretching away all the way to the west coast hundreds of miles away. It was blindingly white. The helicopter pilot complained that the landscape was so featureless that he had a hard time landing, as it was hard to tell how far above the ice he was. There was no reference point. Just a smooth white surface as far as the eye could see.

The ice coring machine was driven by a small two stroke engine and consisted of a hollow tube which was called the auger and pipes which were added above it as it's depth increased. The auger was 1.5 metres (5 feet) long and cut a cylinder of ice about 10 cm wide x 1.5 metres (4 inches x 5 feet) long. Sections of pipe were added above the auger as it went deeper.

As it went deeper it became heavier and more difficult to retrieve. Once we drilled down a further 1.5 metres we stoped and pulled everything out of the hole to retrieve the bottom auger section.

The auger section contained the core sample. We carefully pushed the sample out of the auger. Then we measured it, weighed it, photographed it, sectioned it into 20 cm lengths, quarterede the sections, then recorded and bagged the quartered section. There were usually 5 to 6 sections per core sample. Then we would reassembled the auger and drilling pipe, adding another metre of drill pipe and started the process again.

We woke up at 05:00 a.m., got to the ice sheet at 05:30, and got back to the ship at 13:00 p.m. We worked steadily during our time on the ice and managed to drill to a depth of 11 metres. According to Jason Box (Ohio State Geography/Byrd Polar Research Center), the scientist for the ice sampling, we ended by drilling ice from the summer of 2003. Eleven metres of compressed snow and ice in two years! I'm impressed. But then again everything thing about Greenland leaves an impression on me.

peace and love,

phil